“AWOL on the Appalachian Trail” by David Miller

Flipping through the last pages of a well-liked book is like coming to the end of a great friendship. Both people and books take you places and make you experience the world in a different way. When I reached the end of “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail”, I felt as though I had hiked the trail with him and I was sorrowful that it had to end.

AWOL’s journey resonated with the wanderer inside and, if only for a moment, made me escape the humdrum of my daily life. In 2003, David Miller gave up his day job to spend five months grueling up the eastern United States. The Appalachian Trail (AT) is over 2,000 miles long and goes into 14 states.

When David got on the path, he took the trail name “AWOL” to represent the abandonment of his stable job. Perhaps also to show the escapism involved with hiking a 6-month long trail. He went AWOL from his life and set course for Maine.

This book is heavily descriptive and lingers on the what it’s like to live in the woods. It doesn’t romanticize hiking in heavy rain or sleeping in uncomfortable shelters but it creates an enticing environment where AWOL ventures into the wilderness. He encounters bears, snakes, handfuls of foot injuries, and a myriad of hikers. Nonetheless it is an interest read.

I highly recommend this for anyone who is caught up in the 9-5. Similar to Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, AWOL explains aspects of modern life that we seem to forget. He writes about the openness of hikers, and the community that he quickly finds himself immersed in.

After spending two weeks reading this book I’ve decided that I want to hike the AT. It may be a while before I do but it’s a journey I want to take in my lifetime. Again, I highly encourage you to read this book.

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Creativity is a Habit, Cultivate it!

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Earlier this week I wrote about Twyla’s book “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life“. It’s my second time reading it and I really enjoy the writing style, the content, and beauty of the book. The design is incredibly pleasing and I couldn’t help but pick it up again.

In one of the chapters, titled, “Rituals of Preparation”, Twyla explains how creativity is a habit that we form rather than a gift from the gods. People used to believe that inspiration was divine, coming from the heavens when the gods granted it. Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat.Pray.Love.) has talked about this in one of her TED talks. While society no longer believes in Greek (or Roman) gods, we still linger to this idea that inspiration is external, generating from outside of us.

Twyla argues that inspiration comes from routine, and, thus, is created inside each person. She uses herself as an example, explaining that each day she wakes up at 5:30am to go to the gym. By establishing this regularity, she’s able to routinely create. Rather than waiting for a lightning-strike of ideas, she’s preparing herself to do her art. In this way, Twyla believes creativity comes from hard work rather than spontaneity.

Her book elaborates further but I’ll leave that for you to read.

To test this for myself I’ve started my routine. Working at night has altered my sleep schedule and I find myself sleeping through most of my free time. This week I’ve decided to change that and start going to bed immediately after I finish work. By going to bed a few hours earlier, I can get up at a decent hour.

When I roll out of bed in the morning, I begin the day by running 2 1/2 miles. This kick-starts my metabolism and jolts me awake. After finishing I have a big breakfast and sit down to write (much like I’m doing now). This simple routine improves the quality of blog posts, my mood throughout the day, and the amount of time I have for the activities I love. I find that I don’t feel pressured to write (like I do at 2am), and I can think clearly.

Nothing in this process directly generates inspiration or creativity, however I feel like I have an overabundance of both. It’s the accumulation of these tasks that support the artist inside. By doing the same activities daily, I wear into them. This is why writing daily, or a 365 project, works so well: you build the habits of creating each day.

When I combine the artistic task (writing) with other routines (waking up early, running), I build a system where my mind understands when to be creative. I get up, go for the run, and, internally my head goes “it’s time to create!” Then the creative juices flow and bam!, here we are.

While today is only day two of this experiment, I feel like I already agree with Twyla Tharp: creativity comes from hard work. There will be moments where you feel struck by lightning with new ideas but you can’t wait for the lightning to strike. You have to work for an environment that cultivates your creativity.

Again, I highly recommend this book. Look I’ve already linked it three times!

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Over the past few days my building has been repainted and, while doing the job, they disconnected the public WiFi. I’m updating the last three days of posts as we speak!

 

Growing Up With Books

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Yesterday I suggested 5 Books That I’m Reading and I wrote a bit about how my parent’s house was always filled with books. As a child, there never was a shortage of things to read. In the crawl space of their house there was a section of children’s book, piles of National Geographic magazines, and anything else that would interests me.

Before I left home last year, I counted 17 full-sized bookcases worth of text. This was a rough estimate because some books were stacked in the closet, on tables, and in man-build (or should I say Dad-built?) bookcases.

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This surplus of books taught me how to quench my thirst for knowledge as a kid. If we were talking about anatomy in school, I could go home and rest assured that I probably had a book on the subject. If I wanted to know more about acupuncture, I can think of three books off the top of my head that focus just on meridians. When I craved to learn, I found that there were enough books to satisfy my curiosity.

While many of you are looking at these images and noting how disorganized they are, I figure that placing all the books on shelves would remove the constant exposure to them. If we placed all of them into one “library room”, then we could go about our day without ever seeing a book. That constant exposure as a child made me comfortable with reading. Whereas many kids go to school and see books as homework or just plain work, I saw them as a part of my life.

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That life evolved into one of wonder and curiosity, where anything was possible. Looking across my own shelves, I’m balanced between biographies and “how-to…” books. I’m fascinated by other people’s lives and by learning how to do new things. Exposing me to those books at a young age taught me that I can learn anything and lead any life that I want. If Maura O’Holloran could study Zen Buddhism in Japan, then I could too. If Elizabeth Gilbert could travel around the world, so could I!

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Instead of watching television, I found that I’m able to take more information away from a book. Whereas a documentary talked about a person’s life, a biography felt like I was living it. Don’t get me wrong, I watched a lot of television as a kid, but as I’ve grown up, my passion for reading has increased. Usually this is backwards, we’re interested in reading when we’re young, then when we become adults, we watch television because it “takes up less time” and is “more entertaining”.

This is dangerous because we don’t usually watch one episode of a show. Instead we end up consuming more time watching television than if we were to have read. As an adult, I don’t even own a TV. Twyla Tharp writes in her book “The Creative Habit”, that she loves watching movies but she can’t watch them. If she does, she’ll lose her productivity from watching television all day. Being exposed to books taught me to grab for the binding rather than the remote, which has made me a more productive person.

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I write this post because I owe my mother gratitude for filling her house with books. I cannot express how much my life has been enriched by being surrounded by so many wonderful stories. Simply put, the person I am today was built from a coffee table of books that were always changing and always being read. Thank you Mom for filling your house with books.

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5 Books I’m Reading (That You Should Too)

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If my mother were to have given me only one trait, it would have been her love of books. Growing up, my house was filled with guides for traveling, biographies of famous singers, books on astrology, astronomy, gastronomy, and everything in between. While I loved reading as a teenager, that passion has amplified after moving out. In only a few short months of living on my own, I’ve managed to fill my bookcase.

Here are the five books I’m reading:

1. Eat. Pray. Love. by Elizabeth Gilbert

It’s taboo to read a book after you’ve seen the movie, but I could help myself with this one. Liz is a recovering divorcee who, after being in a manipulative relationship, finds happiness in the places she travels to. She sets course for Italy, India, and Indonesia to find pieces of herself that she feels are lost. Each country also represents a different aspect of Liz that she needs to confront. Italy is the country of desire, full of pastas, romance, and is truly alive. India is where she finds devotion. Indonesia teaches her how to love again.

I fell in love with this one while flipping through it at a bookstore in Texas. Liz’s style of writing is smooth and comfortable to read. The parts of herself that she struggles with are things I’ve struggle with too. She has the same constant need for newness in her life and a passion for traveling.

While I’m only 40% through this book, I highly recommend it. Liz is easy to relate to and her journey around the world is enjoyable to read. I may not be able to travel now but I think that the traveler in me is satisfied with reading about Liz’s adventures.

2. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp

As the world’s most clumsy person, it’s interesting that I picked up a book written by a choreographer. The focus of this masterpiece is creativity, more specifically, how to make it into a usable force. While dance is Twyla’s way of expressing herself, the book doesn’t focus on a particular art medium. Instead it teaches the reader how to work hard and become passionate.

I’ve read the first half of this book already and I’m rereading it from the beginning. Not only is the book beautiful to hold and read, it’s incredibly useful. I’ve come back to it because it’s so easy to digest. The techniques Twyla suggests are profound and have changed the way I view creativity.

I suggest this book for artists who find passion in creating but haven’t made it into a committment. When you’re first stumbling into art, it feels wonderful to produce something but you’re not always sure how much to create or what to make. This book answers these questions about creativity and gives motivation in only a way that Twyla Tharp could.

3. Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!) by George Lois

This is my latest addition to my bookshelf, after I saw a great photographer recommend it. It’s a simple book that you can read in a few hours. Overall, the book totals to less than 200 pages, and there’s pictures!

George Lois is a famous marketing/advertising celebrity that has helped shape our country’s culture. His work has brought Jiffy Lube, Tommy Hilfiger, MTV, and many other organizations, from the brink of extinction into complete stardom. Contributions by him have changed routines and covered our billboards since the 1950s. It’s no surprise that this book is profound.

In this book, George Lois shares a ridiculous amount of advice that comes across as bold and unapologetic. After reading it for 45 minutes, I feel like my confidence has boosted enormously. My art feels much more important, and I feel better prepared to share it with the world.

4. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller

Completely the opposite from the previous book, AWOL is about book about David Miller’s hike from southern USA into Maine. In the early 2000s, David quit his desk job to take a trip across the country, the book is his diary along the way. He runs into bears, sleeps at shelters on the trail with odd travelers, and contemplates life.

I really enjoy this book because it’s written on a very personal level. David shares what happens and it feels like you’re there with him. By reading this book, I feel like I’ve shared his journey through the Appalachian Mountains. Not only has it motivated me to do the hike myself, I feel like I’m more motivated to explore the world.
If you like non-fiction adventure, this book is great!

5. Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

While I haven’t gotten far into this book, I’m already in love with it. I purchased it earlier this year with the intention of reading it in only a few sessions. Instead it’s been 6 months and I’ve hardly dented it. Not because it’s a bad book, but because it takes more time to digest.

This book is about Robert’s motorcycle trip across the northern US in the middle of the 20th century. He rides across the country with his best friend, his son, and his best friend’s wife. The journey leads Robert into heavy contemplation about the meaning of modern life. Along the way he relates the journey to different aspects of zen buddhism and the human condition.

It’s a beautiful book about mortality, life, and everyone’s purpose. I can’t wait to get further into it!
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These are all the books I’m going to share with you today! Each has changed me over the last year and I hope that you choose to pick one of them up for yourself. In the future I’ll write more specifically about individual books but today I just wanted to share what books I’m switching between!

Have a wonderful night!

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Where are you going in Life?

As many people my age do, I’ve been questioning where I’m going in life and what paths I’m taking. This query has made me wrestle with both happiness and depression, leaving me worn out. Everywhere around me I see people content with mediocre lives, pushing off their dreams until later in life or when their jobs allow it. I can’t help but look at myself and fear the same end.

This terrifies me and wakes me up in the morning wondering what I’ve done with the last three months. I see a dullness in the eyes of the people I work with and I feel the same boredom dwelling within myself. Joe De Sena talks about having a “fire in his belly” to go out into the world: I feel the same ache and drive to experience as much of life as I can.

When my work commitment finishes in 3 years, I leave no anticipation of continuing here. I will not spend my life pointlessly accumulating money to buy things. I have higher dreams than to climb the corporate ladder into the later years of my life.

I find myself questioned by my coworkers about if I’m going to stay here for the next two decades into retirement. When I reply that I’m leaving, I see that there’s a confusion in their eyes. It’s wonderful having a stable job with great benefits, but my heart lays in other places. Places where my 4 weeks a year of vacation cannot coexist with.

After starting “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail” I’ve realized that I need to be out in the world again. When I leave, I will start with 6 months thru-hiking the AT. Afterwards I’m going to hike the Camino De Santiago De Compostuela across Northern Spain. Sometime I also want to go WOOFing through Australia and New Zealand. I also want to combine RideShare and CouchSurfing to explore the Western USA and Canada. My friend in Denmark has even convinced me to go to college there, so I want to do that.

Timothy Ferriss’ book “The 4-hour Workweek” talks about this phenomena where people work with the anticipation of doing everything they dream of after they retire. They over-work themselves because they think it will all pay off in the end. However, once many people retire, they look back at their younger years and wish that they did more when they physically could

“Your Money or Your Life” is another great read which talks about our relationship with money. It discusses how money is the currency of our lives. When you hold a $100 bill in your hand, you’re holding hours of your life that you spent working. You’ve exchanged your time for that piece of paper. While this isn’t bad, our relationship to money has become skewed. There’s a limit to how much money we need to live and how much is just plain overworking.

Right now that scale is tipped to one side in my life: towards working too much and experiencing too little. For my previous post, I wrote about how I want to create a book. I think that when I finish my time here, I’ll start the book. It seems that people have a lot of time to think when they’re hiking the AT, perhaps that would be the time to write it.

Of course, I still have another third of this 365 to complete! December is coming up quicker than I thought, and I feel like I’ve learned many things about myself in the last year. We’ll see where these next 4 months take us and play it by ear.

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“Once in a while, it really hits people that they don’t have to experience life in the way they have been told to.”

-Alan Knightley

Another Project, Another Day

These past few weeks have been full of reflection, upon both my work and who I am as a person. During this time, I’ve found my mind moving in circles but always returning to the desire to write a book.

Above my bed I have a stack of books that I read while laying down. Each book is different but I’ve found that I read many biographies and journals. A few of these books included “Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind”, “Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, “Eat. Pray. Love.”, “An Artist at War”, and “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail”. For my birthday I ordered, “On the Road” and “Into the Wild”.

There are two common themes for all of these books: intense introspection and traveling to a new location. The same reason that compelled these authors to share their stories is why I feel the need to write my own.

Over the last year I’ve moved from my family in Minnesota to a new group of people in Texas. After two months I left for Mississippi with only a few people I knew. I found myself back to Texas, Minnesota, and settling into South Carolina. Each one of these locations has brought another part of myself out.

While I feel the need to write as a way to organize my thoughts, I also feel compelled to explain this last year. Too much has happened for my brain to process and maybe it will help someone else. Maybe they will be able to figure out a piece of their life through my stories.

All that I know right now is that I’m going to write a book.

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